Setting the Stage for Future Field Studies

In June, three educators from Canada and the U.S. participated in the BIOS Educator Workshop, a weeklong program designed to provide insight into leading field courses at the Institute. Ed Argenta (right) came up with the idea for the workshop after more than two decades of bringing students to BIOS from middle and high schools in Connecticut. This year, he was joined by (left to right) Sue Gass, university teaching fellow, Dalhousie University; Julianne Mueller-Northcott, science teacher, Souhegan High School; and Janetta Greenwood, K-12 science coordinator, Clayton County Public Schools.

This summer marked the eighth BIOS Educator Workshop, a five-day program designed for pre-service, middle and high school teachers, college professors, curriculum specialists, administrators, and informal educators based in Canada and the U.S. who want to plan field courses at BIOS for their students.

The workshop is the brainchild of Ed Argenta, a teacher consultant with the Connecticut Geographic Alliance. He started bringing students to BIOS in 1980 when he was teaching science at Vernon Middle School in central Connecticut. In 2011, after Argenta’s retirement from teaching at Rockville High School, in the same district he began his career, he saw an opportunity to build on his legacy and develop a program that could potentially create more “Ed Argentas”—educators passionate about bringing their students to BIOS year after year.

“There are certain times in your career when you're just so grateful for what your students get to see and do,” he said. “When they're here at BIOS, they're having such a great experience. Through this workshop, we're hoping to reach educators to get the next generation involved.”

The workshop has a core curriculum, covering topics such as Bermuda’s history and oceanography, as well as the logistics of running a field course at BIOS, and it also changes slightly each year to highlight the research taking place at the Institute. This year, participants collected and catalogued microplastics as part of an ongoing project at BIOS. Mueller-Northcott (left), sifts sand for microplastics while Noyes (center) and Rodney Staggers, Jr., a mechanical engineering graduate from Arizona State University, observe. Photo by Sue Gass.

From June 21 to 25, three educators joined Argenta and Kaitlin Noyes, BIOS director of education and community engagement, for a packed schedule that included classroom lectures, laboratory sessions, and field excursions to museums, nature reserves, and reef snorkeling sites. The workshop has a core curriculum that covers Bermuda’s history, regional oceanography, why BIOS is an ideal location for field study courses, and the logistics of planning trips from Canada and the U.S. It also changes slightly each year to highlight the research taking place at BIOS.

This year, the workshop showcased new opportunities for visiting education groups, such as collecting and cataloguing marine microplastics. Workshop participants were also introduced to “Jack,” one of BIOS’s autonomous underwater vehicles, or gliders, in the Institute’s Mid-Atlantic Glider Initiative and Collaboration (MAGIC) program. They met with Ruth Curry, physical oceanographer and lead scientist for MAGIC, to discuss the different types of data collected by the glider fleet.

“Interacting with educators is a huge pleasure because they are genuinely attentive to the entire process of learning and communicating ideas, and they bring such vitality, creativity and dedication to their professions,” Curry said. “Their zest for fostering science literacy in the classroom is not only impressive, but quite contagious!”

Although the 2022 cohort was small, Argenta was quick to describe it as a “powerhouse group.” He laughed as he recalled difficulty condensing their individual lists of accomplishments and accolades down to a paragraph each to send to Noyes ahead of the workshop.

During the program, we had time to sit down with the participants to hear about their professional backgrounds, what drew them to the workshop, and what they hope to take away from their time at BIOS.

Sue Gass, university teaching fellow, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada)
When I was going to school for my undergraduate degree, my favorite courses were field courses; in fact, those were the inspiration for me to attend graduate school. When I became a teaching professor, I always knew that I wanted to provide similar opportunities for my students. The BIOS facility is awesome and access to the coral reefs is so convenient. One of the upper-level courses that I teach is Coral Reefs and Environmental Change, so being able to look at corals at their environmental limits here in Bermuda and connecting that with climate change is a perfect field study topic. Fewer coral species exist here compared to further south which makes learning their species identification a little quicker and easier for students as well.

Janetta Greenwood, K-12 science coordinator, Clayton County Public Schools and president of the Georgia Science Supervisors Association (Georgia, U.S.)
The superintendent of my school district asked me to spearhead a long-term partnership with the CEO of the Georgia Aquarium. Our district has 69 schools and 55,000 students; 95% of those are minority and urban students. My goal has always been to provide our students with as many opportunities as possible. For this partnership, I am developing a K-12 marine science career pathway with a direct pipeline to job opportunities at the Georgia Aquarium. In our district we have a big emphasis on environmental sustainability, and as I was looking for curricula that could integrate into the new marine science pathway, I came across BIOS. At the same time, I knew I wanted to offer field experiences for our rising freshman, as well as our sophomores and juniors. I found this workshop and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn for myself what a field experience to BIOS could look like. It has met every single one of my expectations.

Julianne Mueller-Northcott, science teacher, Souhegan High School (New Hampshire, U.S.)
I used to lead field study trips with my students to the Florida Keys, the Galápagos Islands, and Mexico, but I took a break for a few years when I had kids of my own. I miss that; it was a big adventure, it was rewarding, and the students came back with personal stories to share in the classroom. I’m ready to lead trips again for my students and I was looking for where to go next. What I liked about BIOS was that it seemed like a nice in-between. Some places take care of everything, and at other places I’m responsible for everything—driving the bus, cooking the meals, dealing with the snorkeling gear. Bermuda is also a nice distance from New Hampshire; it's an overseas field study trip, but easier to get to than other locations I considered.

Argenta shows no signs of slowing down in his commitment to inspiring the next generation through these workshops, saying that as long as Noyes wants him to help out, he will. “We are looking forward to a full and productive visiting groups season in 2023 with students engaging in BIOS’s research and experiencing the island as a living laboratory and we are pleased to continue partnering with Ed in the annual Educator Workshop,” Noyes said.

If you are interested in participating in the 2023 BIOS Educator Workshop, please contact Kaitlin Noyes at kaitlin.noyes@bios.edu or visit the workshop’s website for updates.